16 May 2013

Whoa Nellie...

So, horses are back.  As farm animals.  Once again the oracle of all matters, the NYTimes, lured me in with a long long at the return of draft horses to the farm..

Now, except for a brief ride on a horse in 1991 and before that in 1963, and perhaps a carriage ride on Mackinac Island in 1972, I have had no direct experience.  My interest here is no emotional but economic. 

Way back when my father was giving me financial advice, he advised me to do two things - invest for value and diversify.  I have done both with the little I have.  Those two principles I have applied beyond money.  Draft horses strike me as an excellent example.

Value - they can serve for 20 years, comparable to mechanical equipment.  My brief survey of IRS and other documents indicates that mechanical tractors are depreciated for about the same amount of time, sometimes less.  Horses need feed and care, but tractors need fuel and service.  Horses cannot work as long or as hard or as fast, but they do provide fertilizer and do less damage to the land. 

Diversify - Horses alone cannot sustain a modern farm, but added to machines and hand labor, they diversify the 'tools' a farmer can put to use.  The farmers described in the article used tractors for heavy hauling.  The Amish sometimes use mechanical equipment for other farm chores. 

The same principle applies to my little life.  My little vegetable patch is very small, it only supplements what I buy from a grocer.  But it is high in value because my asparagus patch cost me $2.50 in seeds and has yielded 3-6 servings this season. At $2.50 a pound, that is more than double my investment.  I had to wait three years but it will be better next year.  I could get more if I tried harder, but even now the cost benefit analysis is positive.  Likewise the parsley, oregano, basil and tomatoes.  While I am not self sufficient, my sources of food are more diverse as well.  Value - Diversify.

We live close to the city center, less than a mile from my office.  I walk most days.  We still have a car, but a lot of my travel does not need it.  Because I have diversified my travel options, I get improved value by using the car less and thus not spending as much on gas or service.  I do have to resole my shoes more, but I buy tires less.

My dad passed away in May of 1999.  He is on my mind a lot this month, as you can tell.  What pleases me this evening is to be able to live his wisdom.  I hope my sons get something worthwhile to keep as well.  One thing's for sure - gardening isn't it. 

11 May 2013

Foot Deep in the Big Muddy

Just came in from the back yard, where it was beginning to rain - again. We Great Lakes folks have been well irrigated this spring. Was setting up the tomato cages and wrapping them cheesecloth because it's going to frost tomorrow.  For a garden that looked very punky two weeks ago, though, it is not looking bad. 

My asparagus came shooting up the moment it got above 60.  It's not a tidy patch, but we had more thick stalks than last year, enough for two meals.  As my sole investment was a seed packet three years ago and a whole lot of mediocre attention,that's a great cost-benefit ratio.

Meanwhile I have three determined alpine strawberries that have wintered over nicely and now have lovely white flowers.  They set tiny berries, which I eat as I weed.  Even picking them bruises the little things.  Not quite as productive as the asparagus over the years. 

Our herbs are sturdy - parsley that refuses to die, and mint, and signs of life among the lavender and rosemary.  Needed to buy a basil plant, though, which is now in the mix. 

The tomatoes got started indoors, on a radiator, from seed, and just got into the ground a couple of days ago.  We have moved the plants around every year.  We always get amazing foliage but inconsistent fruit.  To impede the bunnies, we have planted lettuce and peas in tall planters than actually look kind of nice in the garden itself. 

You know me.  I am the lazy gardener.  My goal is to get as much as I can from the least amount of work I can.  Big showy patches of flowers or cases of preserved food are just too much damned work for me.  Yes, I know I should plant more of my own food, and that working the soil is satisfying and even spiritual work.  But after an hour or two of plucking weeds and deadheading the daffs, I have had enough fortifying. 

That's why you won't see pictures.  (My peonies are a embarrassing, and several shrubs I spent actual money on are now quite dead).  I am not trying to impress anyone including myself. 

But the flowering crab was lovely Thursday, so we sat out on the back porch for supper and enjoyed its brief display.  Today it is 50 degrees and raining.  The petals are slush in the driveway.